The Sterile Curse of Social Isolation

“While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.”

Luke 24:15

Quite a few studies now out, revealing the reality of social isolation.  It seems more and more people are veering away from social contact. A Duke University study found that Americans are choosing to become more solitary than ever. Many are eschewing all relations all together.  This is a problem.

I’ve seen some of the statistics– fully 25% of people have no relationships at all, and something like 50% have no relationships outside of their spouse and children.  This disturbing trend is building momentum.  In 1985 the figure was just 15%.

I think that a lot of pressure may be coming from the internet, although Facebook and Twitter have reconfigured social connections. Longer work hours, the iPod and Blackberry, chat rooms and cable TV contribute to the move away from human contact.

The commute time is also a factor.  For every 10 minutes stuck in traffic there is roughly a 10% drop in social relationships.  So if you have a bad commute on I-80 you are more likely not to want to have a friend over.

Hundred years ago our society was far more geared for personal contact.  People would regularly visit each other.  Neighbors knew each other.  There were parlor games and dinners.  Music recitations and skits.  Card parties. Television and radio had not yet grabbed the countries psyche.  Sociologists and anthropologists confirm that our history was deep in contact with each other.  We were not built for solitary living.

With community life disappearing people are turning to online relationships. Our churches are trying to adapt, as even Christians are not connecting like they should.  I have been out in the Alaskan bush villages, and the older generation is frustrated because the younger generation seems to be in trouble.  “They don’t pick berries, or hunt; all they do is sit in front of the TV playing Nintendo, or their laptops.”

We need fellowship with others, and God as well. There are very few solitary believers.

I guess the biggest issue of all is mental illness.  Social isolation is a direct antagonist of depression and other disorders.  In order to get better, people must reach out and connect.  There is no substitute, no other option.

I see the shift in my own life.  I have dropped back about 80% of my Dish Network.  I am seeking to back off of being online 6-8 hours a day.  I am trying to be around flesh & blood as often as possible.  I am personally trying to consciously maximize that time.  It keeps me healthier.

To be healthier, we think its physical.  We have our gym memberships and we run on the treadmill.  That is good.  But I’m thinking we are losing out if we don’t workout socially (and spiritually) as well. Christians are  a special species; we need fellowship with others, and God as well. There are no solitary believers.

“This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”

1 John 3:11, NLT

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The Corrosiveness of Social Anxiety

Everyone is looking at you
“In any social situation, I felt fear. I would be anxious before I even left the house, and it would escalate as I got closer to a college class, a party, or whatever. I would feel sick in my stomach-it almost felt like I had the flu. My heart would pound, my palms would get sweaty, and I would get this feeling of being removed from myself and from everybody else.” “When I would walk into a room full of people, I’d turn red and it would feel like everybody’s eyes were on me. I was embarrassed to stand off in a corner by myself, but I couldn’t think of anything to say to anybody. It was humiliating. I felt so clumsy, I couldn’t wait to get out.”

Social phobia, also called social anxiety disorder, is diagnosed when people become overwhelmingly anxious and excessively self-conscious in everyday social situations. People with social phobia have an intense, persistent, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and of doing things that will embarrass them. They can worry for days or weeks before a dreaded situation. This fear may become so severe that it interferes with work, school, and other ordinary activities, and can make it hard to make and keep friends.

While many people with social phobia realize that their fears about being with people are excessive or unreasonable, they are unable to overcome them. Even if they manage to confront their fears and be around others, they are usually very anxious beforehand, are intensely uncomfortable throughout the encounter, and worry about how they were judged for hours afterward.

Social phobia can be limited to one situation (such as talking to people, eating or drinking, or writing on a blackboard in front of others) or may be so broad (such as in generalized social phobia) that the person experiences anxiety around almost anyone other than the family.

Physical symptoms that often accompany social phobia include blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, nausea, and difficulty talking. When these symptoms occur, people with social phobia  feel as though all eyes are focused on them. 

Social phobia affects about 15 million American adults. Women and men are equally likely to develop the disorder, which usually begins in childhood or early adolescence. There is some evidence that genetic factors are involved. Social phobia is often accompanied by other anxiety disorders or depression, and substance abuse may develop if people try to self-medicate their anxiety.

Anti-Anxiety Drugs

High-potency benzodiazepines combat anxiety and have few side effects other than drowsiness. Because people can get used to them and may need higher and higher doses to get the same effect, benzodiazepines are generally prescribed for short periods of time, especially for people who have abused drugs or alcohol and who become dependent on medication easily. One exception to this rule is people with panic disorder, who can take benzodiazepines for up to a year without harm.

Clonazepam (Klonopin®) is used for social phobia and GAD, lorazepam (Ativan®) is helpful for panic disorder, and alprazolam (Xanax®) is useful for both panic disorder and GAD.

Buspirone (Buspar®), an azapirone, is a newer anti-anxiety medication used to treat GAD. Possible side effects include dizziness, headaches, and nausea. Unlike benzodiazepines, buspirone must be taken consistently for at least 2 weeks to achieve an anti-anxiety effect. Social phobia can be successfully treated with certain kinds of psychotherapy or medications.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10

Important Links:

http://www.socialanxietysupport.com/ http://morethancoping.wordpress.com/2009/06/01/social-anxiety-disorder-social-phobia/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_anxiety_disorder http://www.dmoz.org/Health/Mental_Health/Disorders/Anxiety/Social_Anxiety/

 

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The Hours

When clinical depression is “on-the-clock” it can be sheer agony. It resists and lingers, sometimes for days and days. (It can last for months if untreated.) But it seems that it is these “hours” that are scarcely endurable. It’s truly all this “wasted” time that can seem most unbearable to the afflicted.

“I was mute and silent,
I refrained even from good,
And my sorrow grew worse.”

–Psalm 39:2, NASB

Depressed people tend to suffer in silence and isolate themselves from the outside world. When you’re depressed, you feel less motivated to go out, make contact, socialize or participate in activities, or doing anything at all. It’s all you can do just to get out of bed.

Days, even weeks can go by without wanting to see anyone or talk to anyone. This aggravates feelings of isolation. Often depressed people do not want to talk about their problem or simply feel misunderstood.

Similarly, prolonged and intense feelings of depression can lead to loneliness. Treating the symptoms of depression may help resolve the problem but it isn’t a sure thing. Finding good relationships can push you out of a depression. Loneliness often fuels my depression. Find understanding friends that you can talk with.

unbelieving-believersBeating depression or loneliness does not start with having more friends, or a relationship, although it can help. It really starts from within and is a process that takes time and care. We can be tempted to scrap friendships because they’re a lot of work. But they maybe one of the keys to healing. Experience has taught me that humans go through life in patterns. (We ‘ll do the same thing over and over again.) Even in different situations, these patterns will be repeated and simply generate the same results. A friend can be a new and strategic solution to breaking free.

It is a good thing to know that Jesus Christ sees and understands. 

But it’s also good to have someone with “skin on.”  Someone you can see and touch.  That’s precisely why we have the Church.  People who believe and touch each other deeply, helping each other up.  Depression does not do very well in the true Body of Christ.

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”

Galatians 6:1-2

Dear broken believer, take solace in the people in the church. Learn to confide with those who understand. Sometimes I wonder if God has arranged my mental illness so that I will reach out to others. Perhaps He allows it to bless His Church?

“The church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in. It is not a palace with gate attendants and challenging sentinels along the entrance-ways holding off at arm’s-length the stranger, but rather a hospital where the broken-hearted may be healed, and where all the weary and troubled may find rest and take counsel together.” 

–James H. Aughey

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